The growth of collaborative research practices in a connected era, and latterly a rise in funder mandates, have fuelled a rapid increase in interest in sharing research data.
Research data is recognised as being central to research and disseminating, sharing and enabling access to research data are all now seen as essential to research integrity. Making research data accessible does not simply facilitate validation, it also supports new research and innovation. Digital technology is making data sharing much easier.
Openness is increasingly accepted as the default, while giving due respect to data protection, privacy and reasonable rights to first use. And so, as the highly regarded Royal Society report “Science as an Open Enterprise” says: “The conduct and communication of science needs to adapt to this new era of information technology.”
The opening up of research has also been supported by the transition to Open Access for peer reviewed research papers, and funders, publishers and universities have worked together to achieve Open Access. Open Access policies also encourage statements on access to the underlying research materials such as data. In the UK and further afield great strides have already been made to start to ensure that research data is well managed. The Australian National Data Service has coordinated developments for data infrastructure and, in the UK, Jisc has worked with numerous universities to develop solutions.
But the management of research data is not solely the concern of universities; research funders also have a role and around the world data management plans and access to data beyond the research grant period are now commonly mandated. In the UK research councils have led the way with explicit policy requirements on research data and - alongside institutionally focused solutions for research data - there are disciplinary arrangements that cater for some data needs, such as the European Bioinformatics Institute and some of the research councils have disciplinary data archives
Though the majority of research data is now in the digital domain, data does not have to be digital – the EPSRC 6 , for example, requires that “publicly-funded research data that is not generated in digital format will be stored in a manner to facilitate it being shared in the event of a valid request for access to the data being received”. Whilst this document focuses on digital data, much of what is said is applicable to all data.
Universities that have begun to address research data management actively have found that they need a multidisciplinary team - people in the research office, the library and the IT department may all need to find effective ways to pool their skills. Progress is being made but research data management solutions in UK universities are still relatively immature and most universities only have partial solutions in place. Many would welcome shared solutions, and it is clear that shared services and more tightly coordinated infrastructure is required for more efficient and effective research data management